It’s been nearly a month since the spreading coronavirus prompted Yosemite National Park’s closure on March 20, and resident black bears are making the most of it. Last year, 4.42 million people visited Yosemite. This year, it’s a bear’s world.
“For the most part, I think [the bears] are having a party,” said wildlife biologist Katie Patrick, according to EcoWatch. “This time of year is difficult for the animals here. There can be literally walls of cars, stop-and-go traffic, or people in the park.”
Patrick, better known as Ranger Katie, works in Yosemite’s human-bear management program, which aims to mitigate interspecies conflict. She recently hosted a Facebook Live talk about her work as a bear biologist.
“You would think that with Yosemite being the size of Rhode Island, there would be enough elbow room for everybody, bears and humans alike,” she said in the Facebook video. “But actually, visitation tends to be concentrated in specific areas of the park that tend to be really good habitat for bears, too.” Humans prize the waterfalls, the river and the beautiful vistas of Yosemite Valley. Bears prefer the same landscape for different reasons, many of them food-related, such as the fruits and berries that grow by the river in the summer and the oak woodlands that become heavy with fall acorns.
“So really, it’s paradise for humans and bears,” Ranger Katie said. For now, bears and other wildlife have the park mostly to themselves.
Adult male black bears usually weigh about 250 pounds, while females weigh 150. Confusingly, black bears are usually brown and sometimes even blond. Approximately 300 to 500 bears live in Yosemite.
A worker at Yosemite’s Ahwahnee Hotel told the Los Angeles Times that in addition to seeing far more bears since the park’s closure, coyotes and bobcats are also coming closer to staff living quarters.
While it’s nice for the bears to have such a relaxed springtime with few humans and cars, Ranger Katie doesn’t want them to get too comfortable. It could be a problem when humans return post-pandemic and the two species have to divvy up paradise again.
Image via Hillary H.